Survival Skills

Survival skills – All You Need To Know


Survival or advanced outdoor techniques is something you don’t just end up in, but something you actually put your self into. The ways to put your self into a survival situation is when you are out hiking in the mountains and are suddenly surprised by a snowstorm or something like that.

That can also be when you have lost some or all your equipment during white river rafting or canoeing and the boat turns around and your equipment is gone with the stream, or more dramatic a aeroplane crash.

To be able to handle a survival situation knowledge about yourself and your equipment is required but also how you can supplement the equipment you have with thing you can find in the nature.

Survival is a lot about to think before something happens, plan your emergencies!

On this page I will briefly discuss how you can prepare yourself for such situations.

Preaparatus Supervivet

The prepared will survive

I asked my self; what people think when they hear the word ‘survival’?

First I did not think there was any direct answer to such question, but after giving it a little thought I realised it have to be different for different people. I mean if someone has been in an accident in the mountains, on the canoe trip or aeroplane crash, compared to guy which most exciting moments are in front of the TV, it have to be different answers to the question.

My thoughts went back to my 3 courses within the subject. My interest for the environment and the nature has always been there. (The information from here and to the end applies to Swedish conditions, flora and fauna if nothing else is mentioned).

The first of my courses was during my time in High school, (spring -96) with some guys that were eager to teach us their knowledge won during their military service and maybe make a buck. I think that we who did the course went home as the big winners, when we had been thought the most essential things to remember in these situations.

The most essential thing to remember is that always keep the will to survive!

The second most important was the procure of water, after that, protection from wind and rain, making of fire for protection and heat came third. Then of course food came last.

The food consists of ‘the 14th prioritised plants’ that will be covered later on this page.

Water can be found almost everywhere all the time. We were thought to clean water in 5 different ways, which also will be covered later.

We were thought how and why we should build bivouacs and in different sizes and models, this was very educational because they who cheated on the building froze later that night when the slept in them.

We learned six ways to make a fire. We tried until we were shore how to do it; it did not take too long time. It felt great to achieve this knowledge, though it very important skill you’ll see.

Food, we learned this by taking a little stroll around in the forest and our instructor showed us different plants, and what part that was eatable and how to cook it. While we were out there he told us different signs so we could orientate our selves to North and South.

Six month later it was time again (fall -96), this time it was through (FBU) ‘voluntary officer education’, a military organisation that arrange courses in association with army regiments for it’s members that are interested in the military. Even this time Stig Jörgensen stood for the education but the location was different, and final exam was a lot harder thought it was conducted at one of the military exercise fields (I16, Halmstad) with a Lieutenant Roger Ottoson that originated from the Swedish Naval Special Forces, Swedish Rangers.

The course went through about the same material as the first one (good repetition) and added some e.g. how to be on the run when you are hunted by enemies with dogs during war time and how to make snares and traps. After the final exam we got very good tasting food and the honour to carry ‘The Army Survival’ badge on my arm.

One year later I joined up in the military and had to do it again, but this even harder, thought it all was included in our hardships-week (read HELL-WEEK!). This time I knew so much about this so the instructor called me his colleague, and if there was any questions after his lectures they could be appointed to me…


Water is essential for us we will die if we don’t drink water. The body cannot store water as it can with proteins and other nutrients. The storage of water therefore has to be refilled constantly. Normally we need 2.5-3 litres of liquid per day. It is therefore essential for us find water when we are in a survival situation.

Most watercourse that lays higher than built up areas or crop fields in Sweden contains clean drinkable water BUT you cannot afford to get a gastric flu or something (because you loose a lot of water regurgitating) i.e. you have to clean all the water you intend to drink. How you clean it will be covered later.

If you follow the animal tracks you will find water and ant stacks often lays close to watercourses.

Never drink cold water fast and don’t eat snow! It can lead to stomach pains and it takes more energy to warm or melt the water/snow than you can take for advantage later.

Don’t forget rainwater is drinkable!

You should neither drink seawater, though it can dehydrate your body.


What happens if I don’t drink then?

The following effects has 1-5% water loss for a person weighing 80kg (about 1-4 litre):

  • Thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Slow working
  • Increase of pulse
  • Nauseous
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feelings of discomfort
  • Dark urine (not applied for mornings)

Water cleaning

The easiest way is water purification tablets that should be part of your equipment, just like your underwear is. If you don’t have access to water cleaning tablets you can boil the water for 20 minutes to kill off all bacteria and other unhealthy things you might find in the water.

You can also make a so-called ‘carbon-peat filter’, this is when you take a beer can or a bucket and modifies them accordingly; take off the top of the beer can and cover about a couple of centimetres of the bottom the beer can with Swedish white moss. Then you mix freshly made carbon, from a fire, with peat (which you’ll fin under the moss) and put this mix into the beer can covering about 2/3 rds . Add some slightly bigger rocks and make some small wholes in the bottom (make sure they are small because otherwise it will not get clean) and you are done. Just pore your water through and the peat has so-called ion-switching properties and can therefore extract ions from heavy metals. The carbon increases the property of the peat and reduces the humus taste.


To realise how much we have to eat, we have to realise how much energy we spend in different activities. Activities in the field get these approximated values.



70 kcal

Light work


2500 kcal

Normal military activity


4400 kcal

Stationary survival situation day 1.


4500 kcal

Stationary survival situation day 2.



Body consists of about:







Mineral nutrient substances




Fat is evenly distributed around our bodies. Works like energy reserve at a shortage of food. The subcutaneous fat makes you more resistant to the cold. The fat needs carbohydrates to be able to be transformed into energy. Fat can be extracted from food from animals, but the meat from wild animals has as rule low content of fat, fat can also be extracted from plant oils and nuts. 1 gram of fat give 39 kJ (9 kcal).

Proteins build muscles and enzymes, among other things break down the food in the gastric channel and the are also responsible for the energy transformation in the different organs in the body. Proteins can be found in meat and fish. 1 gram of protein give 17 kJ (4 kcal).

Mineral nutrient substances (salts) and vitamins is needed in tissues like the muscles the nerves and in the energy transformation. Is found both in animals and plants.

Carbohydrates are stored in the body’s muscles; liver and some traces are found in the blood as well. They give energy to the brain and the nervous system and it are being used when muscle work is performed, especially hard and intensive work. Carbohydrates exist in both a simple form and in compounds; the gastric channel takes up the simple forms. Examples of simple forms are glucose and fructose. The compounds (cellulose and starch) is taken up slower due to they have an important roll in the gastric-channel-function, and they don’t produce any energy. Carbohydrates can be found in plants. 1 gram of carbohydrates gives 17 kJ (4 kcal).

What happens if I don’t eat?

The blood-sugar level will decrease to certain level but when reaches that level it flatten out stays pretty stable there. Blurry and slow thinking indicates this level and the nervous system will also be affected by show slow reactions and this is a pretty funny stage. Though if you cut your self on knife or something you start to tell your friends about before you do anything about it. You just don’t think about your self, you start to laugh at thing that are very boring, e.g. if somebody says e.g. fry pan everybody burst out in a laugh!

The fat will not be fully combusted in the cells, and rest-products forms (ketones) which lead to more energy loss. The proteins in the muscles start to transform into fuel so we can use our brain.

Advantages with plants as food.

  • They are easy to find
  • They consist of the most essential carbohydrates
  • They consist of fibres and among other things vitamin C
  • They most of them can be eaten without cooking, if you can make a fire (military survival)

Disadvantages with plants as food.

  • The species variety varies from the north to the south. (Sweden)
  • The winter covers many species

Advantages with animals as food.

  • They contain fat which is rich in energy and perfect for use when your own body’s reserves starts to cease
  • You’ll get a lot of food if you catch a big animal e.g. a deer or moose
  • You get a lot of other important nutrients if you eat the gut.
  • You’ll recognise tastes from your normal diet, and that’s psychologically important.

Disadvantages with animals as food.

  • Fishing and hunting is time and energy demanding
  • The carbohydrate content is low and you’ll need tools and/or weapons
  • You can be discovered of the enemy in a military survival situation

When you start your survival education in Sweden they will tell you about the 14 prioritised plants, that is the 14 most common plant that contain reasonable amount of nutrients to make it worth while to look for them, and they are:

  • Birch, where you can eat the inner-bark and the new shoots in the spring, you can use the birch bark to light a fire. (I’ll get back to the fire)
  • Wild chervil, where the root is edible
  • Bulrush or reed mace, where the also the root is the food.
  • Orpine, that has very juicy leafs that you can put into your pocket at eat little now and then…
  • Lichens just boil and put into your food hole…(Tip; don’t try to taste them!)
  • Dandelions, the root (maybe familiar?) Leafs in young plants can also be eaten.
  • Rose bay [willow herb] or even fireweed, the root and the shoots even here you can cook tea on the leaves.
  • Dog-rose [bush], can make rose-hip soup, tea etc.
  • Alpine bistort, the germ layers, and the leaves.
  • Scotch pine, the needles (boil in water and drink as tea)
  • Reed, the root

In general boil for about 10-20 minutes and drink and eat the plant remains.

I will not go through how you put up snares and traps or how you slaughter the animals. Because I do not be responsible for animals be killed when then are not needed. Also if you are putting out snares it is very easy to forget one and the end up with an animal chewing there own limb of to get loose, and I can’t have that on my conscious. If you want to learn I suggest you go a course and learn that way.

Movement and orientation

This is the area that differs the most between civilian and military survival, due to during military you do not want to be found of the enemy.

Military Survival this applies

Movement in the dark at night, against the wind, and due to that you most likely doesn’t have any equipment your mind and endurance will be put to the test. Avoid civilised areas, though they can be occupied by the enemy, your largest enemy in this situation is most often yourself.

Civilian survival this applies

IGNORE the above, do the total opposite, move in the day time when the chance for discovering is the biggest, and you SHALL go to civilised areas because then you are not in an emergency anymore!

How to keep the direction in the field.

Without a compass and points in the terrain, you often go out of your course and end up way outside the final point you want to end at. Some classic examples is that the persons are going in a big circle in less than 1 km walk, the cause is most likely that the body is not symmetrical i.e. not the same on both sides. The legs maybe not the same length, the backbone can be little oblique and maybe the muscle might not have the same strength on the left and right side.

Swedish compass, is an old model that works that was evolved by the people in Sweden for many years ago living in cabins, and when the parties was over the landowners just putted a 3-5m long pole in the hand of the drunk hiker. And put him off in the direction towards his own cabin over the fields, and the pole compensated against sudden changes so the bearer feel that he tried to change the course and correct him self to the pole. The pole works like a rudder. If there was a large bush and shrubs in the way it was just to put the pole through and pick it up on the other side and continue your route.

How to find North and South.

Compass is good, you should guard it with your life!!

Many find it as just a little detail that have more problems than actual use.

If you don’t have any compass, you can make a primitive compass yourself with e.g. a sewing needle or a shaving blade. You just rub it swiftly against a piece of cloth in ONE direction to make it magnetically, then just hang it up and watch so the thread don’t hassle and it will end up in the north-south direction.

If you have an analogue watch you can very easy find out what direction north is at by putting the sun against the hour hand and then imagine a line between ’12’ o’clock and the hour hand. This line will show N-S and upward on the watch is up on the watch if you have it on the wrist.

Remember that the moon reveals where the sun is.

If the time is:









The sun is in:









Ant stacks are as rule built with the south side on the trees, and they have their steepest side against north.

Branches on the trees are often thicker and more rigid on the south side than on the side facing north, this is if the tree are allowed to grow without any interference.

Lichens are most likely to be found on stems and stones on the side facing north.

You should never trust just one sign, look for many and draw your conclusions from that.

I do not know how this is applies in the Southern hemisphere!!!


‘Night camp under open sky’ that’s what the dictionary says. But it is so much more and it’s not under open sky either. The bivouac is your temporary home and a home should be a place where you should be able to feel safe even if the bivouac is very simply built. Its main purpose is to give protection under all kinds over weather, rain ad snowstorm. And give Murphy some thought here, because it’s seldom-nice weather when you are in the middle of this!

Emergency bivouacs should be finished after maximum an hour, and stationary bivouacs could take 3-8 hours to build depending on ho many people there are to build. Stationary bivouacs are used if you intend to stay in the same area for more than the night.

The main principles in sleeping outdoors are, keeping your head warm; therefor always use a cap even when sleeping. A good way of keeping yourself warm is to use heated rocks and should be as big as your fist. Place them in your armpits, in the hollow of the knee and in the groin.

The rocks will keep warm for about 3 hours, which gives you a good 5 hours sleep. If you have a sleepingbag and spending the night in very cold climate, think about not to close your sleepingbag over your mouth because condense is very easy accumulated and frozen to ice, breath through your arm of your jacket instead.

Conclusion about bivouacs:

You should have many cloths between yourself and the cold ground, not much on you, and a lot over you. Take 1 hour to build your emergency bivouac not more! Always take your boots of when you sleep, then you don’t have to wake up with literally frozen feet! Your feet are your transport, so take care of them! Protect your self from the cold ground by doing a layer of spruce twigs.


This maybe the most important skill to be able to master. It is the most crucial skill that can mean the difference between survival and death. Not many people would disagree with me that making a BBQ fire on the beach in the summers is not that hard. But many people use lighter fluid, petrol and other chemicals to fire it up, and sometime it blows out. If your fire in a survival situation blows out, can be fatal for you, you do not have the time and equipment to fail!!!

It has been continuously raining for many days everything in the environment is soaking wet. Your hands are wet and cold. Wherever you go you can’t find a dry stick or peg. The striking surface on your matchbox is soft of water. You didn’t think when you putted the wet lichens in the same pocket as the matches, you are frozen and tried you feel that you react slowly. Your low blood sugar is given you a brutal headache the rain is now changing to snow and now it’s minus degrees. For you to continue you have to get some warm liquid and some warmth from a fire…

I would not like to be caught in this situation, and is not necessary to happen if you are educated and prepared on how to proceed. If you want a life insurance tip, store always your matches in a plastic bag and close to the body. Always have one firestart of smaller branches with you in your gear.


A box of matches’ often comes as standard in your military equipment, always carry these in a plastic-bag. Lighter is a lot better because it’s not that moist sensitive as the matches are. And represent 10-20 boxes of matches.

The best alternatives to these primitive firestarters are the ‘magnesium-steel’ and the so-called ‘Jukka-stick’. They are not sensitive to moist at all, and fires up at a lot greater temperature than the lighter and the matches, and they exceed the both’ lighter-life.

Good things that catch fire quickly: juniper bark, birch bark, resins

Remember to use the radiation heat from the open fire. Put up a wall of rocks as a mirror in front of you or build a wall of snow, chopped wood or hang up your clothes that need to be dried.

And don’t forget to build a proper fireplace!


What do you do when you don’t have any equipment?

-Make your own!

The Survival box.

To increase your chances to make it back alive you can prepare a box containing the items that is essential for survival and that you’re not able to find in the nature. It should not be bigger than it can fit in your pocket and not to big so you leave it at home…

This box will NOT replace knowledge but is compliment to the hard situation you putted yourself in.

Down below are 10 essential things that can be put into your box.

  • Clasp knife
  • A Jukka stick (or magnesium steel stick)
  • Compass
  • Water purification tablets
  • Needle and thread
  • Fishing line, sinkers, hooks (small hooks can catch big fishes but big hooks can’t catch the small fishes, remember that no fish is to small when you haven’t eaten for a couple of days)
  • Some candy! 🙂 it’s good to have when you have to make important decisions and you need to think clearly
  • Wire saw (there is no good ones)
  • Soap, psychologically refreshing when you feel clean.
  • (Soda, to leach the lichens.)

These are just suggestions, you can have what ever you want in your box, as rule though, the more education within the subject you have the smaller box.


Survival skills should be seen as a licence for the forest. I mean you can live a life in New York without a life insurance but it’s not to be recommended.

But even if you have the skills and can use them does that NOT mean that you will survive a demanding situation.






You can remove the four corners because if you don’t have the will to start with you have no use of all your gathered food and water.

Even if you got the will and the knowledge doesn’t that mean that you will make it, but you have a bigger potential to so.


To survive in the nature on it’s conditions you have to understand how it works and where thing grow.

To not dehydrate you need 2-3 litre of liquid a day. It’s important to keep the water balance constant so the internal organs don’t get damaged.

There is a lot of food in the open, the hard part is to recognise them and find them. This can be little bit hard and dangerous and remember don’t eat something you’re not 110% sure on what it is. This can have catastrophic consequences and can cost you your life.

Map and compass is many people’s enemies and that’s little to bad though these are a magnificent tools if they are used in the right way and they could be your insurance to find your way back to the point of origin. This is something I strongly suggest you learn before you go out on a hiking trip.

To make a BBQ fire is not a challenge in many people’s opinion; many are practical and use matches and old newspapers, that work terrific on the camping site, but when they get wet they are worth less. Buy therefore a Jukka stick that is not sensitive to moister what so ever and store it in your pocket and you’ll know that you are able to make a fire hen ever you want.

Final tips are being prepared for the worst and think before you do anything.

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